Birkenstock just got an uber-cool makeover. In the pandemic-ridden, comfort-first fashion scenario, the “dad shoe” has been a wildly popular footwear choice. In fact, Birkenstock climbed its way to number two on the hottest womenswear product ranking of Lyst‘s fourth-quarter index of 2020. But back in 2018, when the world looked different, Central Saint Martins partnered with Birkenstock on a project which saw Central Saint Martins’ BA Fashion History and Theory students take a deep dive into Birkenstock’s rich archive spanning over 250 years. Enriched with the archival knowledge, the students then extracted and defined the core elements of the German shoe manufacturer’s legacy, giving birth to a sister project undertaken by MA Fashion students. Remember the uber-cool Birkenstocks we mentioned earlier? Yes, those are a result of this very project.
For the uninitiated, Central Saint Martins is one of the most prestigious fashion design schools in the entire world, having given birth to such geniuses as Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Tisci, Stella McCartney, and Christopher Kane. As part of the Birkenstock x Central Saint Martins collaboration, Birkenstock invited MA Fashion students to interpret the footwear brand’s emblematic designs in a contemporary way. After a year of research-led design, Birkenstock invited a jury of 12 industry experts including the brand’s CEO Oliver Reichert, MA Fashion Course Director Fabio Piras, and fashion critic Sarah Mower, to review the students’ work and shortlist 10 finalists. Another year of meticulous product development later, the designs of four students – Alex Wolfe, Saskia Lenaerts, Alecsander Rothschild, and Dingyun Zhang are qualified for serial production. Each product from the collaborative collection will feature the designers’ name embossed on the iconic Birkenstock footbed.
Through his designs, Alex Wolfe, explores and questions the notions of “Britishness” and “masculine” identity. Wolfe’s ‘Moto’ sandal is a contemporary take on Birkenstocks’ orthopedic history, blending a supportive shin brace with protective motocross gear.
When asked about how the idea of “Britishness” unites with the German DNA – that is so central to the brand, Wolfe told Savoir Flair, “The Birkenstock is an iconic shoe, it’s about practicality. The foundation was there, so it was an opportunity to really have fun with it. ”Britishness’ is kind of subjective/abstract, but I am influenced by the world around me. I wanted to capture a playful sense of irony and youthful masculinity.”
Saskia Lenaerts celebrates Birkenstocks’ heritage and the comfort of the brand’s iconic latex and cork footbed. Inspired by the effortless beauty of a footprint engraved in the sand, Lenaerts’ designs feature foot silhouettes created using contrasting top stitches.
“I was fascinated by the technology and composition of the iconic cork and latex footbed. It is the foundation that Birkenstock rests upon and it’s the foundation that you physically stand on when wearing the sandal. I felt instantly it should be my starting point to the design process,” Lenaerts explained.
Having grown up surrounded by a family of artists, Alecsander Rothschild peeked into the world of sculptures, particularly those created by Roman sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. Inspired by Brâncuși’s use of contrasting materials and textures, Rothschild gave life to his version of the Birkenstock using three different types of leather.
When speaking about how his current work is shaped by being in London and at Central Saint Martins, Alecsander said, “I think CSM has allowed me to be even freer in my approach to research. It’s like arriving at such a creative hub compared to anywhere else I’ve ever been, it feels more liberating because the tutors are, I would say, experts on subversion and very clearly understand and appreciate the absurd.”
Who would’ve thought that oversized puffers and duvets would one day inspire Birkenstock sandals? Inspired by duvets and futuristic outerwear, Dingyun Zhang celebrates comfort with his designs.
“I took the concept of comfort, from the most comfortable place for us all – our duvets. The concept of wearing duvets on our feet is a simple yet versatile design that can be worn without thinking. I think it achieves simplicity and comfort without going too far from the original Birkenstock design, ” Zhang explained to Savoir Flair.
To complement the Birkenstock x Central Saint Martins collections, the brand has also released an updated version of the iconic Birkenstock ‘Tallahassee’ style in contrast colors.
The Birkenstock x Central Saint Martin collection launches in the UAE today with an exclusive pop-up at Level Shoes that will run until April 12.